Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bronstein on the Underground, or, The Religion of Capital

"Capitalism is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extremely cultic that ever existed. Within it, nothing has meaning that is not immediately related to the cult."
- Walter Benjamin, 'Capitalism as Religion' (1921)

"I am the Immeasurable Spirit of the civilized world; my body has innumerable forms and is manifold. I live in and pervade everything that is bought and sold. I am active in every article of merchandise; none has, besides me, any separate existence. I shine in gold and stink in dung; I ferment in wine and am poison in vitriol. I live in everything. Man sees, feels, smells and tastes my body, but my spirit is finer than ether, and is still less comprehensible to the senses. My spirit is CREDIT. It needs no tangible body to manifest itself."
- Paul Lafargue, The Religion of Capital (1887)

"The car of the subway is jammed. At the station strong-bodied attendants pushed the passengers in the stomachs with their knees in order to be able to shut the steel doors of the cars. . . . The working population of New York has left today another part of its life's energy in the temples of Capital. Some of the people have become weaker; others have grown richer. In the subway are those who have become weaker. The color of their faces is greyish, their hands are hanging down weakly, their eyes are dim. . . . Only their jaws are moving, submissively, evenly, without joy or animation. . . . What are they trying to find in this miserable, degrading chewing? . . . When an infant, exhausted from hunger and crying, is pathetically moving its dull eyes, and there is no milk in the mother's breasts or in the bottle, the mother pushes a rubber nipple into the child's mouth— and the child sucks it desperately. . . . For a while it deceives itself by the movement of its own lips. ... Thus it is with these people in the subway. . . . Capital does not like the working man to think and is afraid. ... It has therefore adopted measures. ... It has put up automats in each station and has filled them with disgusting candied gum. With an automatic movement of the hand the people extract from these automats pieces of sweetish gum, and they grind it with the automatic chewing of their jaws. . . . It looks like a religious rite, like some silent prayer to God-Capital."
Leon Trotsky, "Chewing Gum in the Subway" (Novy Mir, 10 March 1917)

Monday, May 04, 2009

On the Physical Effect of Philosophy

"The Stoic philosopher Posidonius gave an example of the medicinal powers of philosophy when he experimented on his very own person in the presence of the great Pompei ... he was able to overpower a violent attack of gout by means of a lively attack on the Epicurean school; the attack of gout went down to his feet, never having been able to reach his heart and his head. And so he proved the immediate physical effect of philosophy..."

I. Kant, 'Announcement of the Near Conclusion of a Treaty for Eternal Peace in Philosophy' (1796), in Raising the Tone of Philosophy, ed. P. Fenves, p. 83.